Bedazzling new light through old windows

New look, new store, the same old touches illuminate the resplendently renovated southern section of Shaanxi Road N.

New look, new store, the same old touches illuminate the resplendently renovated southern section of Shaanxi Road N.

The 230-meter section between Nanjing Road W. and Weihai Road, is home to some of the city’s most revered brands, but until now, many have been struggling to survive in a highly competitive, rapidly changing marketplace.

After six months of renovations, the street reopens today with a new look and revamped retailing concepts that pay homage these time-honored brands, while daring to transport them into the age of the discerning consumer.

The 300-year-old Leiyunshang pharmacy, heritage-listed Longfeng Cheongsam and the Harbin pastry house — a household name in Shanghai but a newcomer to the street — retain their traditional charms while acquiring a clean, modern freshness. 

“We have upgraded the stores both inside and out. From exterior appearance and interior layout, to products and services, we have been meticulous in every detail,” said Zhuang Qianyun, chief executive of the Kaikai Group, the renovators. 

As far as possible, traditional architectural crafts and materials were used. Half of the stores are fronted with red bricks processed from decades-old bricks, to chime with the shikumen residences above.

Zhuang said she hoped the vintage atmosphere would encourage people to tarry a while and take photos but ultimately, she wants them to step inside the stores and make purchases. 

So what exactly do these stores provide?

“Retailing concepts are changing. Demand for the highest possible quality of goods is growing. These brands, part of the character of the city itself, needed to bring themselves up to date,” Zhuang said. “This is no longer just a place where things are sold, we’ve done all we can to give people plenty of reasons to visit.”

The brands are living history of how commerce has shaped the city. Through old photos and curios, by inviting acknowledged masters to perform their traditional skills, the stores can pass their eternal stories on to the next generation.

Haute couture is a highlight of the rejuvenated thoroughfare, though exclusive, bespoke tailoring, made in workshops inside the stores does not come cheap. 

At the other end of the scale, sachets of fragrant herbs or medicinal powders, traditionally said to ward off evil spirits, will draw locals and tourists alike. 

“The street is as a brand-culture display center, a bespoke tailoring center, a traditional craft center, a new product launch center and a marketing center,” Zhuang said. 

Leiyunshang, the oldest brand in Jing’an, was the first of the time-honored brands to try something new. 

The pharmacy “employs” two traditional Chinese medicine “doctors,” both of whom are robots. They can scan facial complexions, do tongue diagnosis and talk to patients. They draft medical reports and dispatch them to TCM experts at Shanghai TCM University.  

The No.6 Grain and Oil Convenience Store has instituted a new payment system. Customers simply scan their palms to make payments. 

The 101-year-old Hongxiang, a pioneer in Chinese women’s fashion, has a 3D fitting mirror for customers to “try on” clothes.

Preserving traditional skills while injecting them with new vigor is truly the best of both worlds, but serves no purpose unless we can guarantee the survival of the brands, said Zhao Jian, deputy director of Jing’an commerce commission. 

“We hope the street pleases sightseers and shoppers alike, and becomes a window to the beauty and ingenuity that Shanghai’s culture offers the world.”

Some of the recommended stores:

Meixin Dimsum Shop 

(103-107 Shaanxi Road N.)

This eatery, famed for its seductive snacks was set up in 1925. In summer, people line the street, waiting to enjoy cooling silky noodles with vinegar and sesame paste dressing. From today, relieved diners will once again be gobbling up its signature snack, tang yuan, glutinous rice balls with sweet sesame or salty pork stuffing.

Harbin Foodstuff Factory 

(127-129 Shaanxi Road N.)

For locals, this pastry maker is synonymous with the taste of childhood. It was opened by Yang Guanlin, a Shandong immigrant in 1936 as Fuli Bakery. Later, he renamed it Harbin as he had been a baker in Harbin and Vladivostok. He refined Russian pastries to suit local tastes and was a huge success. Today, popular treats by Harbin include almond bars, butter cookies and palmier.

Hongxiang Clothing Company 

(131-133 Shaanxi Road N.)Hongxiang, founded in 1917, was the first couture house in China to hold a fashion show. To make a perfect garment, Hongxiang tailors need to master 30 techniques, listed as city intangible cultural heritage. Among them, “3D tailoring” was what made Hongxiang famous. It is an ideal place for women to find quality garments and with tailor-made clothes ready to wear within 72 hours. 

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